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Egypt's presidential election: an all-male affair

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iol news pic egypt vote dec 05

AP

An Egyptian woman looks at a ballot as she votes in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo.

Cairo - Less than a week before Egypt's presidential election, Reham Raouf has not yet decided for whom she is going to vote.

That's because not one of the presidential candidates can be trusted to promote women's rights, says the young doctor.

“I want to have a voice in my country, feel safe and look forward to my future. It shouldn't be so hard for the candidates to clearly explain how they are going to enforce the gender equality they keep talking about,” Raouf says.

The Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights, an independent non-profit organization, has criticized the candidates for failing to provide details about their views on women's rights.

“Theirs are mere general statements,” said Ghada Lotfy, a consultant at the centre.

Lotfy called on the contenders to provide specifics in their programmes, with tools and timeframes for implementation “so that progress can be measured over a certain period of time.”

Thirteen contenders are running in the polls, Egypt's first since a popular revolt removed Hosny Mubarak from power in February last year.

The first round of the vote is due to be held on May 23-24. If no candidate gains a clear majority in that round, a run-off will be held on June 16-17.

The race's frontrunners have made various attempts to canvass women's votes.

Abdul-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, a moderate Islamist candidate, this week held a rally titled “Egyptian Women” attended by his wife, daughters and female supporters and at which he pledged to address discrimination against women.

The Muslim Brotherhood's contender, Mohammed Morsi, has in interviews praised his wife for playing “the biggest role” in his life.

Meanwhile, Selim al-Awa, the third Islamist candidate, has failed to make any mention at all of women's issues in his programme.

“This is because he (al-Awa) believes that women and men are equal and that it is enough to address Egyptian citizens' problems,” said Amal Saeed, one of his campaign volunteers.

Islamists made unprecedented gains in Egypt's recent parliamentary elections. But their critics say they have performed disappointingly inside and outside the parliament.

“I cannot trust Islamists any more. I feel we have moved backwards a decade in just a few months,” says Sara al-Saidy, a housewife.

“I want to pick one of the liberals standing for president,” adds added al-Saidy. “But they appear as vague about women's issues as their Islamist rivals.”

Former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, seen as the top liberal candidate, has promised that “post-revolution Egypt will not be a country where women are stripped of their rights and freedoms.” But he did not elaborate.

“We fear that women's status would remain as it has been during the transitional period of the past 15 months,” says Lofty of the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights.

Since Mubarak's fall, women in Egypt have faced a lot of trouble, say observers.

It began weeks after Mubarak's overthrow, when women rallying in the iconic Tahrir Square to mark International Women's Day were attacked and sexually harassed.

Shortly after, Samira Ibrahim, a female activist, announced she and other women had been forced to undergo a virginity test following their detention by the military in March 2011.

A painful blow came when Bothaina Kamel, the only woman to announce her intention to run for president, failed to collect the required 30 000 voter endorsements to qualify as an independent candidate.

Women make up only 1 per cent of the two houses of Egypt's parliament.

A heated debate was sparked earlier this month over reports that loyalists of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the largest party in the parliament, had launched a charity medical campaign to perform female circumcision surgery in southern Egypt.

The practice was banned and incriminated under Mubarak's rule.

According to the reports, the drive was part of efforts to support the Brotherhood's presidential candidate, Morsi.

Although Morsi's campaigners denied the reports, FJP lawmaker Azza al-Garf has stirred up a fresh uproar by saying female circumcision is a “personal decision.”

Other controversial statements by Islamist deputies include suggestions to cancel penalties stipulated in the law against sexual harassment and reducing the marriage age for girls from 18 to 14.

“Women should make up 50 per cent of all the decision-makers and the official committees,” says Lotfy of the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights.

“Women should also account for 30 to 50 per cent of the next president's advisers to ensure that their voices are heard,” she adds. - Sapa-dpa


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